Tobold's Blog
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Virtual gamepads / joysticks

I read a good review about the iOS version of a classic RPG, Sega Shining Force, so I downloaded it. After 5 minutes of trying it out, before even getting to the first combat, I stopped and uninstalled it again. Because the review hadn't mentioned that the game was using a virtual gamepad control scheme; and I find those absolutely impossible to work with.

I think the problem is two-fold. The first is that a real gamepad is designed to be held with the center of gravity between your hands, and the thumbsticks and buttons easily reached with your fingers. Most tablets are much bigger than most gamepads, and the center of gravity is further away from you if you hold the tablet at the two bottom corners, where the virtual buttons and thumbsticks are in many of these games. That makes holding the thing and using the buttons a lot more awkward than a real gamepad.

The second problem is that a gamepad gives you haptic feedback. You know whether your thumb is right on the thumbstick or besides it, you feel the buttons. No such feedback with a virtual gamepad, if you don't watch your fingers, you might well place them a bit to the side of where they are supposed to be, and mess up your control.

When recently there was all this anger about Diablo Immortal, the only part of the news that told me that this might not be the game for me was that it was said that the game worked with a virtual joystick. I haven't found that single game on my iPad yet that works well with a virtual gamepad / joystick controls. I suspect that this control scheme has inherent fundamental problems that will always make "point-and-click" work better on a tablet. With the Nintendo Switch of course being the notable exception, as it gives you a real gamepad feel, even if you have the joycons attached to the side of the console.

Not sure how much effort you want to put into playing a mobile game but you can sync up a bluetooth controller with an android device.

They even sell little attachments that go into your controller to then hold you phone.
You may just need to keep trying. My kids do almost all of their gaming on iPads and have gotten very adept with the controls. As have I, since I was always called in to get past the extra tricky sections that they could not- well, at least I used to, I think they are better than me now. Give my kids a regular controller, however, and they are lost.
TLDR: phones are horrible devices for gaming
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